Refugees, stateless persons welcome in PH

·Kim Arveen Patria

The Philippines welcomes not only tourists but also refugees and persons who are not claimed by any other government, a United Nations statement showed.

This, as the UN lauded a new government policy enhancing the system of determining refugee status and putting in place a procedure to know if a person is stateless.

"The new mechanism is a testament to the genuine humanitarian spirit in the Philippines," said Bernard Kerblat, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) representative in the Philippines.

"This unified approach provides the widest possible protection net for refugees and the stateless in the most effective way," he added.

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The new rules, implemented through Justice Department Circular No. 58 issued on Oct. 18, took effect Tuesday.

Although refugees and stateless people are already protected under Philippine law, the circular is seen to ease processes to unite refugees with extended family members such as grandparents.

It also grants asylum-seekers the right to a lawyer and freedom from deportation during legal proceedings.

Other measures protecting asylum-seekers and refugees, especially unaccompanied children, are also included in the new procedures.

The new policy on stateless persons meanwhile shares common features with the refugee process, with the UN noting that it"adopted key recommendations" of the international community.

Full implementation of the new rules will allow the Philippines to improve its compliance with the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the 1967 Protocol and the 1954 Statelessness Convention, the Justice department said in a separate statement.

"The refugees and the stateless persons are the most vulnerable. They fall easily through the cracks of our system," Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said.

"Consider the challenge of having no government to safeguard your rights. You have no government that will ensure yours and your family's physical security," she added.

De Lima also stressed that human rights should be "universal" and "should never be dependent on the presence or absence of a person's nationality or his affinity to his country."

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